Orchids are such beautiful exotic looking plants that they tend to be associated with tropical holidays, fabulous glasshouses or expensive gifts rather than a common house or garden plant (unless of course you are fortunate enough to be living in a tropical holiday destination). However, many species can easily be grown at home and often don’t require any special care beyond orchid basics. At garden centres they tend to be quite expensive but you can find them more cheaply at local Orchid Society Shows.
Orchids can be found in almost every habitat apart from glaciers. The richest diversity of orchid species is found in the tropics, but they are also found above the Arctic Circle, in southern Patagonia, and even on Macquarie Island at 54° south. So chances are there will be one to suit your environment (inside or out).
In New Zealand Cymbidium orchids can grow outside with a bit of shelter from direct sunlight in the middle of the day and seem to tolerate a huge amount of neglect – although as with most things they will perform better if you don’t totally neglect them. For me the biggest problem is stopping the slugs and snails from eating the new flower spikes. When they flower you can bring them inside to brighten up a dark corner; they last longer if you bring the whole plant in but the flower spikes do last quite a long time as a cut flower.
I have some very hardy Dendrobiums that I had in an area that was protected from sun during the middle of the day but not at other times and one summer I forgot about them totally and didn’t even water them – they thrived! I now have them in a different spot under a tree near my shed, clothesline and veggie garden so I will see them regularly and be reminded to look after them a bit more. The white ones are scented too so great to bring inside when they are flowering.
The beautiful Phaleanopsis or Moth Orchid is my current favourite (particularly the almost pure white ones). I had always just admired them from afar until I was given one as a gift. I put it on my kitchen counter where it flowered for 9 months and then never flowered again. In despair I banished it to a corner of the dining room which was nearer to the windows and it hasn’t stopped flowering since (for several years). They are easy to look after – you just have to find the right spot for them.
The main thing you need to know about looking after orchids is that most are epiphytes and live in trees where their roots dry out between rain showers. They will last a long time without water but you will kill them very quickly if you put them into ordinary soil or potting mix, or if their roots get waterlogged. They tend to be potted in a special potting medium that dries out quickly. Also being in the trees means that they will be in filtered light – protected from intense sunlight but still getting lots of light. If you can address these two aspects of water and light (and provide a bit of fertiliser from time to time) then you should be able to grow orchids. Of course a major limiting factor will be the temperature where you are compared to where the particular type of orchid grows. If you are not in a warm enough environment, you may just have to be satisfied with an indoor variety like the Phaleanopsis unless you have a glasshouse or can get hold of some of those Arctic species.
There are between 21,950 and 26,049 species of orchid, more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species. And, since the introduction of tropical species into cultivation in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars. With such a large number of species, orchids are also known for the vast range of variation in flower shape, size and colour combinations. I just love going to Orchid Shows to see how many different variations there are and to be amazed when I see another size or shape that I haven’t seen before, let alone the seemingly endless supply of different colour combinations.
Here are some of the wonderful different orchids from my local Orchid Society Show:
Thanks to Steph who willingly came with me to the show, egging me on to spend my money and even volunteering to carry my purchases so that I could buy more! 🙂
I did this year buy a new (to me) type of orchid Pleione – apparently “easily grown by the layman”. I have it inside while it is flowering but I’m not quite sure what to do with it after that.
This book contains lots of useful information about growing different kinds of orchids: